Japanese Dictionary Question

I’ve just started trying to learn to translate Japanese. As in just started, I mean about a month ago I got a hold of some Japanese text I decided to translate. I spent around a week and a half doing it using on-line references, then decided to order some dictionaries and stopped my attempt at translating until they arrived.

I’ve received two dictionaries so far:

NTC New Japanese-English Character Dictionary edited by Jack Halpern ISBN 0844284343

The Learner’s Kanji Dictionary by Mark Spahn & Wolfgang Hadamitzky ISBN 080483556X (This just arrived yesterday and I’ve been buried in it since then.)

I have one more on order: Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary – I’m hoping this will help me translate words formed strictly by hiragana and/or katakana. This is an older edition from the 1940’s. (The newest edition cost 1000% - yes, that’s a thousand percent - more than this edition, so I went with the 1940’s dictionary.)

What I’m getting stuck on – (Okay, since I’ve only been doing this for two or three weeks, there’s a lot I’m getting stuck on!) – but right now what I need are some reference materials on the following:

1 Japanese grammar i.e. what kana are used to convert kanji to different forms of speech, sentence structure, how you can tell when one word ends and another begins (oh boy, do I need help with that), etc.

2 As I’m hoping the Kenkyusha’s will cover me for words without kanji, I’m having trouble translating okurigana. I can identify the kanji and romanize the kana using the Hepburn system, but when I go to look them up, I cannot find them in the dictionaries I have.

I’ve run across a couple of items and was looking for some experienced opinions on them.

Kanji & Kana: A Handbook of the Japanese Writing System (Tuttle Language Library) by Mark Spahn & Wolfgang Hadamitzky ISBN 0804820775

Kanji and Kana: A Handbook and Dictionary of the Japanese Writing System by Mark Spahn & Wolfgang Hadamitzky ISBN 0804813736

Opinions on which would be better in assisting me in my translating? Or are the dictionaries I already have better?

Any suggestions of other reference books that also might help? (Please don’t recommend something that costs $150. So far I’ve managed to keep the purchase price of the books to under $20 including shipping and handling. I’m not looking to go broke over this.)

I should also say I’m not looking to become an expert. The text I’m working on should be simple and basic. Every one of the kanji in the text I’m trying to translate was one of the 2000 basic kanji.

Oh, and in case it would be helpful to know, the websites I have been using most are:

Now excuse me while I go nurse the headache I’ve given myself and curse my mother, yet again, for not teaching me Japanese in the first place.

Gosh, that’s gonna be a big task. I’ve been studying Japanese on and off for about five years and it’s only recently I’ve become sorta confident in my ability to translate with dictionary in hand.

The dictionaries you have are a good start. I used the Learner’s dictionary a lot when I first started and it was very useful in learning “how” to look stuff up. Nowdays, I use my little electronic Canon a lot more. I don’t have the two books you mentioned (I think they’re actually different versions of the same book) but I’ve looked at them and they’re more of an index of kanji and what you have will work better. In general, I don’t like the Tuttle books. Most of them were poublished a long time ago and are a bit out of date.

You’re right, learning where words begin and end and what parts are simply suffixes or particles or verb endings is the toughest part. I don’t know any easy way to learn that other than to study a Japanese text book. Genki is very popular right now. I used Yookoso in class and several others out of class. (I like to see different approaches and have several thousand dollars worth of books on Japanese) Maybe you can get a textbook from the library to start?

An excellent reference is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. (there’s also a companion volume, A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar) It will really help with looking up particles and the back has a comprehensive indexes of verb endings, adjective endings, etc.

One recent book I’ve liked a lot is Japanese the Manga Way. (there’s a review by me on Amazon as well) It doesn’t have exercises so it’s not a traditional textbook but it does cover an awful lot of Japanese grammar fairly comprehensively. Plus it’s very readable and the manga strips keep it from being too dry.

Thing is, you can’t just do a straight word for word translation and expect to get anything that makes sense. Learning how the grammar works is what’s taken me years of intermittant study. So expect to get frustrated alot.

If you get totally stuck, the Japanese forum over at animelyrics is very helpful and a couple of NSOJ post there. Yes, yes, I know, anime lyrics, :rolleyes: , but it’s really the best and most helpful Japanese forum around. The guys over at Usenet (Jim Breen posts over there) are kinda cranky and not all that helpful if you’re a newbie.

Am I correct in getting the impression from your post that you have had little/no formal education in Japanese and are attempting to translate solely from dictionaries? Frankly, I find the idea boggling. If that is the case, you really need to get your hands on some Japanese textbooks and learn something about the language first. Even just a first year text would no doubt help you immensely, by teaching you at least some of the sentence structure and verb conjugations. No doubt the reason you are having difficulty with okurigana is that you can’t identify the infinitive of the verb.

I’m afraid that you aren’t going to find the 1940’s Kenkyusha very useful. The Japanese language has changed a lot since then in terms of vocabulary, kana usage, and what characters were commonly used. This is the J-E dictionary I used when I was first learning. It would likely be much more useful to you.